Supreme Court: Explaining the difference between the degree of proof in a criminal proceedings and departmental proceedings, the bench of Hemant Gupta* and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ has held that the burden of proof in the departmental proceedings is not of beyond reasonable doubt as is the principle in the criminal trial but probabilities of the misconduct.
Here’s the elaborate law laid down by the Supreme Court in this point:
State of Haryana v. Rattan Singh, (1977) 2 SCC 491
In a domestic enquiry the strict and sophisticated rules of evidence under the Indian Evidence Act may not apply. All materials which are logically probative for a prudent mind are permissible. There is no allergy to hearsay evidence provided it has reasonable nexus and credibility.
“It is true that departmental authorities and Administrative Tribunals must be careful in evaluating such material and should not glibly swallow what is strictly speaking not relevant under the Indian Evidence Act. (…) The simple point is, was there some evidence or was there no evidence — not in the sense of the technical rules governing regular court proceedings but in a fair commonsense way as men of understanding and worldly wisdom will accept. Viewed in this way, sufficiency of evidence in proof of the finding by a domestic tribunal is beyond scrutiny.”
Union of India v. P. Gunasekaran, (2015) 2 SCC 610
“In disciplinary proceedings, the High Court is not and cannot act as a second court of first appeal.”
The High Court, in exercise of its powers under Articles 226/227 of the Constitution of India, shall not venture into reappreciation of the evidence. The High Court can only see whether:
(a) the enquiry is held by a competent authority;
(b) the enquiry is held according to the procedure prescribed in that behalf;
(c) there is violation of the principles of natural justice in conducting the proceedings;
(d) the authorities have disabled themselves from reaching a fair conclusion by some considerations extraneous to the evidence and merits of the case;
(e) the authorities have allowed themselves to be influenced by irrelevant or extraneous considerations;
(f) the conclusion, on the very face of it, is so wholly arbitrary and capricious that no reasonable person could ever have arrived at such conclusion;
(g) the disciplinary authority had erroneously failed to admit the admissible and material evidence;
(h) the disciplinary authority had erroneously admitted inadmissible evidence which influenced the finding;
(i) the finding of fact is based on no evidence.
Under Articles 226/227 of the Constitution of India, the High Court shall not:
- reappreciate the evidence;
- interfere with the conclusions in the enquiry, in case the same has been conducted in accordance with law;
- go into the adequacy of the evidence;
- go into the reliability of the evidence;
- interfere, if there be some legal evidence on which findings can be based.
- correct the error of fact however grave it may appear to be;
- go into the proportionality of punishment unless it shocks its conscience.
Ajit Kumar Nag v. General Manager (PJ), Indian Oil Corpn. Ltd., (2005) 7 SCC 764
- In criminal law, burden of proof is on the prosecution and unless the prosecution is able to prove the guilt of the accused “beyond reasonable doubt”, he cannot be convicted by a court of law. In a departmental enquiry, on the other hand, penalty can be imposed on the delinquent officer on a finding recorded on the basis of “preponderance of probability”.
- Acquittal by a criminal court would not debar an employer from exercising power in accordance with the Rules and Regulations in force. The two proceedings, criminal and departmental, are entirely different. They operate in different fields and have different objectives. Whereas the object of criminal trial is to inflict appropriate punishment on the offender, the purpose of enquiry proceedings is to deal with the delinquent departmentally and to impose penalty in accordance with the service rules.
- In a criminal trial, incriminating statement made by the accused in certain circumstances or before certain officers is totally inadmissible in evidence. Such strict rules of evidence and procedure would not apply to departmental proceedings.
Noida Entrepreneurs Association v. NOIDA, (2007) 10 SCC 385
The criminal prosecution is launched for an offence for violation of a duty, the offender owes to the society or for breach of which law has provided that the offender shall make satisfaction to the public, whereas, the departmental inquiry is to maintain discipline in the service and efficiency of public service.
[Union of India v. Dalbir Singh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 768, decided on 21.09.2021]
*Judgment by: Justice Hemant Gupta